When I was 12 years old, my father taught me to tie a four-in-hand knot. He gave me a hands-on lesson and a sheet of illustrated instructions from an old tie box. We disagreed on the ideal width of that knot, a preference which evidently increases with one’s years, but we both understood the utility of it. It was simple. And it served a purpose.
We also understood that I was, from that moment on, the tier of my own ties.
That four-in-hand has accompanied me to interviews, to weddings, and to funerals. It’s come with me to new cities and returned with me to old towns. It’s shown up for important moments in my life and helped me show up, appropriately dressed, for important moments in the lives of people close to me. And sixteen years later, I am still recreating it, crudely, each morning before I before I go to work.
I write software for a living in a windowless basement. The dress code for which is not formal.
I have not found that women are unavoidably attracted to neckwear.
That tie gets to leave my closet every weekday, and gets to ride on a train or a bicycle, to serve as a reminder.
I spend a non-trivial amount of my time trying to improve and to update skills that I am lucky enough to be able to earn a living with. Those skills allow me to make things. They allow me to call home a city that I love. And they help me to define a curiosity which I feel grateful to know.
I aspire to that same effort in the parts of my life for which I am not paid. I want to be better in what I write, and in what I say, and in how I treat people. I have days when I am so aware of all of this that it’s thick in the air the moment that I wake up. But, I have days when it’s not. And it’s useful to build a symbol of it into my routine.
That tie allows me to literally affix my aspirations to my neck with a knot. It is simple. And it serves a purpose. I put it on in the morning and it becomes a small, sometimes striped reminder that I am going to be a professional today, in everything that I do. And that I am on my own to tie the knot and to choose the width.